Regency-inspired decorating

Lately, I’ve been busy reworking some furniture to suit the new life I’m creating for myself. Although I’m more sure about my taste than I used to be, I’m still drawn to design that evokes something of a Regency or neoclassical feel.

A while back, I bought a set of dining chairs that are early 20th century reproductions of earlier styles. Here’s one of them, followed by the image of an English chair c.1780.

My newer projects include restoring some vintage items that I got inexpensively due to condition issues. Again, the lines remind me of late Georgian design. Here’s a dresser I got which I believe is in the style of Duncan Phyfe, an American designer in the Federal (neoclassical) style, who was inspired by English designer Thomas Sheraton.  For comparison, it’s followed by a Duncan Phyfe sideboard.

Although most of the dresser is in good shape, the top was quite damaged. Here, just for bragging purposes, are three of the stages of the restoration. I still have to do the final finish, but I’m happy with the progress!

I’ve also been remaking some furniture I already had, including this armoire. The nice people at the Purple Painted Lady helped me with materials and instructions. I had to custom mix the paint, and it was only after I was finished that I realized that it was Wedgewood blue, reminiscent of Jasperware created by Josiah Wedgewood.

Here’s a late 18th century jasperware scent bottle so you can see how close I got, without knowing that I was trying! In person, the color contrast of the blue and white is a bit stark, but I have to give it a dark wax glaze which should soften the contrast and bring out some of the details.

Anyone else find themselves decorating with elements of earlier styles? Anyone else try  refinishing or painting furniture, and how did it go?


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Artistic License and 12th Night Traditions

The English count the 12 days of Christmas as starting on Christmas Day itself, so Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas culminate tonight with Twelfth Night, ushering in the Christian season of Epiphany. Which customs did people follow to celebrate this during the Regency?

The more research you do to answer this question, the less of an answer you will find, for sources contradict each other and assumptions are made where information is lacking. Twelfth Night itself is ages old, and in earlier times eclipsed Christmas as a major holiday. The rituals and customs associated with it, and with the twelve days, are myriad.

Did people exchange gifts? On Christmas? On Twelfth Night? All through the Twelve Days? Evidence (newspaper ads for instance, and lists of gifts received kept by individuals) would suggest “all of the above”, despite some accounts that say the practice had faded out by late in the Regency. Did they still dress up as “12th Night characters” to entertain each other at parties? Jane Austen mentions this. Still celebrate with 12th Night cake, or choose a King and Queen of the Bean? Perhaps at least in the early Regency, and of course it depends on class, location, and other variables.

“…these venerable customs are becoming every year less common : the sending of presents also, from friends in the country to friends in the town at this once cheerful season, is, in a great measure obsolete: ” nothing is to be had for nothing” now ; and without the customary bribe of a barrel of oysters, or a fish, we may look in vain for arrivals by the York Fly, or the Norwich Expedition….” –Kaleidescope of January 1822.

Elsewhere in his article the writer says: “During the period which elapsed, between 1775 and the close of the 18th century, the periodical observance of old customs, festivals, and holydays, was much more attended to than at present. The recurrence of the time  hououred festival of Christmas, was commemorated in Liverpool, to an extent much beyond what is now the usage, though in a degree inferior to the manner in which it was observed in the age which was gone by.”

Were the old customs celebrated in Washington Irving’s fictionalized account of an English Christmas in “Old Christmas” from his larger work, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.(published serially 1819-20) truly inaccurate, as claimed by the same writer?? His complaint about Irving’s work: “It is true that the Sketch Book is merely a work of imagination and not of history, and that it describes Mr. Bracebridge as an eccentric elderly gentleman, who was fond of keeping up or reviving ancient customs and old pastimes, but it is so expressed that a stranger to English habits, on reading it, can scarcely avoid falling into the error of imagining that such a mode of celebration, was observed at Christmas, in some parts of England, at the time when that book was written, or at least, in very modern times. Even if all the ceremonies, sports and observances which are there described, ever were commonly practised at Christmas, in English families, it was in an age long since past, and there is no reason to believe that the mode of observing or celebrating Christmas, described in the Sketch Book, ever occurred in England, within the last hundred years.”

The writer seems to ignore Irving’s own words in the piece itself: “I felt an interest in the scene, also, from the consideration that these fleeting customs were posting fast into oblivion; and that this was, perhaps, the only family in England in which the whole of them were still punctiliously observed.”

My belief, as always, is that –humans being humans– not everyone did the same thing, so what may be true for one area of England, or even one village, or one family, might not be true for another. We also know that, especially in the countryside, memories in England were very long and tradition revered.

This is good news for us as fiction writers. We try to recreate an accurate sense of the time period we set our stories in –otherwise, why choose that period? But at the same time, we have a story to tell. Do we have leeway to bend the facts to serve our story?

I would say no, when the facts are definitely known and established. To me, that just undermines the believability the story needs to create. I’m a firm believer in the importance of research! But when the facts are not so definite, when sources disagree or are vague? When the variable eccentricities of human nature come into play? Then I say, bring it on!

I admit to creating a setting –a backwater village that clings to old traditions –in my yet-unfinished 12 days tale, The Lord of Misrule. Even the predicament of my hero, who is stranded in said village and quite accidentally (perhaps) selected to be the Lord of Misrule, is an anachronism, since for the most part as far as we know that custom of having a Lord of Misrule was abolished in the 17th century (and even that is subject to all sorts of variations, from ruling for 3 months, October-December, to the 12 days of Christmastide, to only ruling on the also abolished Feast of Fools, or only on Twelfth Night itself).

What do you think? Does a lack of solid information give us license to do what we please for the sake of a story? Whatever your opinion on this, I wish you a Happy New Year “and many of them” as one 1805 newspaper encouraged people to say. Happy Twelfth Night, too!

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Auld Lang Syne

I’m a day late but thought I’d celebrate the new year by sharing the origins of the song we sing at midnight on January 1. The lyrics are attributed to Robert Burns in 1788, but the Scottish poet said he merely copied down the old folk song from “an old man.” However the song originated, it is one that always stirs my emotions. It is commonly sung at the end of the year and at other times of endings, such as funerals, farewells, graduations.

Here’s the English translation of Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine†;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


We at Risky Regencies are nostalgic for “auld lang syne” (old times). Maybe that’s why we write about it!

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Guinea Pigs in Georgian England

As most of you know, I love writing pets into my books. I’ve mostly stuck to dogs, but I think my current book is going to need a cavy. I know you’ve likely all seen the Elizabethan painting of the child with the guinea pig because it really makes the rounds, but there are quite a few from the 18th and 19th century as well, proving cavies didn’t disappear. In fact, they appear to have quickly broken the class barrier and become a popular pet for the middle class as well. We know they were kept in Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and England (so they were likely widespread across most of Europe).

This painting of a door-to-door salesman from 1789 depicts a man selling guinea pigs in England.

Morland, 1789, “Selling Guinea Pigs.”

And this charming miniature shows a boy with is pet guinea pig.

English School, Boy with Guinea Pig. c. 1800

Have any of you ever had a guinea pig, or do you have one now? I find their little chirps and grunts infinitely charming and entertaining.

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5th Annual Unusual Holiday Music Post

I took a look and realized that this will be the fifth year I’m posting about holiday music. So be it!

I love singing carols and attending holiday concerts. However, some holiday music (more what’s played in stores rather than the concerts I attend) strikes me as cloyingly cheerful, too materialistic, or just not in the spirit of light and love. Some of my least-favorites:

  • “Santa Baby” yes, I know it’s supposed to be funny. Oh well.
  • “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” ditto, and it traumatized my daughters when they were young.
  • “I Need a Little Christmas”–just a little avoidant?

As an antidote, I like to browse Youtube to find lovely and unusual music that appeals to me. Here are some of this year’s finds:

“The Coventry Carol” dates from the 16th century. It was suppressed for a time, but Coventry antiquarian Thomas Sharp published a transcription in 1817, so perhaps this may have been sung during the Regency. It is sad and incredibly beautiful. I’m going to be singing it with my UU church’s choir this Christmas Eve, likely with tears pouring down my face, but that’s just as it should be. Here’s a version by Anuna.

“Gaudete”, also from the 16th century, is one of the more popular of my favorites. Here’s an interesting arrangement from the Mediaeval Baebes.

I first heard “Riu Riu Chiu” at a Twelfth Night performance by the Binghamton Madrigal Choir and loved it. It’s also 16th century, but from Spain so it probably wouldn’t have been familiar to Regency characters. Later I found a delightful version by none other than the Monkees. This year, I found another delightful version performed by Dagilelis (“Little Thistle”), an excellent boys’ choir from Siauliai, Lithuania, which is not far from where some of my ancestors lived.

The other piece my choir will sing on Christmas eve is “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. Although the tune dates from the 16th century and it sounds like something people might have sung during the Regency, the lyrics (by English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward) were first published in 1924. I like this version from London Contemporary Voices.

If you’d like to check out my earlier posts, here’s the list.

What are your favorite and least favorite holiday tunes?


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Winter in London, or All the Town’s a Slide

“All the town’s a slide,
And all the men and women merely skaters,”

rhymes PUNCH in 1850 (with a nod towards the Bard), and indeed, 19th-century Londoners were keen skaters: when during a strong frost in January 1850 all the ornamental lakes in the parks of London froze, people turned out in their thousands to slide or skate along the ice. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS talks of 12,000 people assembling in St. James’s Park alone to enjoy the wintry spell.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was another favorite with skaters, and one of Richard Doyle’s illustration from “Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe” depicts the crush.

The Serpentyne durying a hard frosteApart from the bodies of water, the streets themselves often froze over, no doubt helped along by the many child workers out and about, who, PUNCH suggests, took joy in turning the main thoroughfares of London into giant slides:

Skating in Fleet StreetBut of course, Mr. Punch has already come up with a brilliant solution to this particular problem: “As slides in public thoroughfares, during the frost, are now ‘great facts,’ which the police officially recognise, there is only one thing to be desired, namely, that some little order should be observed on the foot-pavements, so as to make a slide a convenient  and rapid mode of transit. […] By the present system, under which slides are merely tolerated, and are only partially carried out, some of the public who are unprepared for them, keep tumbling about in a very awkward manner. A well-regulated routine of slides, under the control of the police, would be an understood accommodation for all, and order could easily be preserved by sending policemen up and down each series of slides at proper intervals.” 🙂

After all, tumbling about is not nice, as some of the PUNCH contributors know only too well: this little initial letter is “drawn from experience”:

What about your town? Has winter already come to where you live? (Frankfurt turned into a Winter Wonderland on Sunday, and we’ll probably get more snow toward the weekend.)

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What To Give An Earl

At this time of year many of us are engaged in a holiday ritual–what gifts to buy that special man in our lives. I’m here to help. Of course, you must first transport yourself to Regency England to discover what you might purchase for that special Earl in your life.

You could go to Floris at 89 Jermyn Street in Mayfair and ask them to create a special scent for your man?

The Floris Shop was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris. England from his native island of Menorca to seek fortune. Shortly after his arrival in England from his native Menorca he secured premises in Jermyn Street, where the shop still uses the mahogany counter that was purchased directly from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851. Beau Brummel used to discuss scents with Floris. Mary Shelley sent an order to Floris to send her two brushes and a toothbrush during her time abroad when she wrote Frankenstein.

Perhaps your dear Earl is a studious sort of man. He might prefer a book from Hatchards, the oldest surviving bookshop in London. Hatchards, on Piccadilly since 1797, has served such famous historical figures as Wellington, Byron, Queen Charlotte.

What book would you buy him? Endymion: A Poetic Romance By John Keats, perhaps? Or something educational, like The History of England: From The Earliest Times To The Death of George II by Oliver Goldsmith.

Maybe you cannot give your dear Earl such a personal gift such as scent or a book of poetry. You can always fall back on the holiday standby. Food. He might delight in some tea or spices or preserves from Fortnum and Mason, right next door to Hatchards.

Fortnum and Mason have been selling quality foods since the 1700s, started by a footman to Queen Anne, who enterprisingly remelted and sold the candle stubs, supplementing his income.

I can hardly believe we have to start thinking of holiday gifts! I don’t know about you, but I wish I could be doing my Christmas shopping in London. I’d look in all three of these shops, which I never fail to do when in London, and then I’d visit the Buckingham Palace Gift Shop. Instead, I’ll probably settle for surfing Amazon.

Where in the world would you like to shop?

(a version of this blog originally appeared in 2010)


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West Galleries –Singing in the Choir (Quire)

STC26400 Village choir (see also 12274) by Webster, Thomas (1800-86); Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; The Stapleton Collection; English, out of copyright

One of my weekly joys is singing with my church choir. Our church is small, and so is our choir, often only six or eight people, just as I imagine a small rural parish church choir in Regency times might have been. But did you know that music in the country parish churches of Regency England was very different from what you find in churches today? I fell down this fascinating rabbit hole while doing research for my not-going–to-be finished-for-Christmas-after-all holiday story, The Lord of Misrule.

Since the heroine of LOM is a vicar’s daughter, I’ve done a lot of church-related research for that story, and am now familiar with the reforms that came with the Victorian era and the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church. Many of those Victorian era changes have lasted into our times, and they can be a roadblock when one tries to recreate an earlier time. In a country parish church of the Regency era, it would  be rare or unlikely for you to find an organ, or hymnals, or even a choir in exactly the same sense we hear today.

“West Gallery Music” evolved in response to the need for guided singing in local church services, where there were few organs, and no trained musicians or choirs to lead the music. During the Reformation of the 16th century, organs in churches were destroyed as part of the rejection of Catholicism. Under Cromwell, English churches continued to suffer abuse, and organs were not replaced. Organs did not become popular in churches again until the middle of the 19th century!

In country Anglican churches 1700-1850, and in non-conformist churches even later, to 1860, the joyful and vibrant traditions of the West Gallery music reigned. A relatively modern term, the name comes from the galleries where the choirs sat. During the Georgian era, population was expanding and in the villages, church attendance was a major part of life. Galleries were added to the interiors of the small churches to provide additional seating, or at least open seating not owned privately, as most pews were. These were sometimes built along the sides, but the west end was usually the province of the choir.

Essentially, these untrained choirs consisted of a band with instruments and singers, and while their music could sometimes feature complex harmonies, most of the time the pieces (psalms most commonly, but also anthems and even Christmas carols), were simple, for many in the choir could not read music –even if they could read words. Instruments included whatever strings, woodwinds, or brasses might be available among the village folks or that the church was able and willing to purchase. Each instrument might anchor a section of voices, the treble parts and bass parts, for instance. The bands that played Sunday mornings also were called into service for village festivals and assemblies or any other special occasions.

Women were not allowed to sing in standard Anglican church choirs. The practice of fulfilling the high range voices with boys and young men led to the formation of many “boy choirs” who sang in the cathedrals and large city churches. However, the painting of “A Village Choir” by Thomas Webster (shown at the top) dates from 1840 and definitely shows women participating. Is it because the choir depicted sings in a non-conformist (non-Anglican) church? Or because it is from a later date? (maybe both?) I have not been able to confirm if women would have been singing in a Regency choir, at least on a regular basis. One argument made against it was simply that it would be improper for young women to be isolated away from the rest of the congregation with all the choir men up in the gallery!! By the 1850’s the West Gallery music was starting to decline, falling into disfavor because it was not considered “solemn” enough, and the trend to restore churches back to their “original” state was beginning to gain traction. Galleries were torn down and removed. Much of the music was lost or destroyed. However, in the 1980’s, a revival of this musical form started in Britain, and has spread into the U.S. and Australia. Local “quires” have sprung up, devoted to performing this unique music. Britain’s West Gallery Association provides a sort of loose central organization and resources. If you’d like to learn more about these groups, and/or the music and history, here are some good website and article links:   (West Gallery Association site with a good overview)

I am disappointed and also offer apologies that I won’t be able to offer The Lord of Misrule to my readers for Christmas!! It was rolling along quite well, but a double whammy of health issues for myself and for my husband has slowed me down too much to make it feasible. I will keep folks posted about when it will actually be finished and available!

In the meantime, had you run across the West Gallery music tradition? My heroine in LOM (along with her married friend) actually gets drafted to sing in the choir to substitute for a missing choir member, but normally women would not be allowed, in that village and that church. I always say that research is imperfect at best, and a writer can make anything happen as long as it seems logical and believable.

Best wishes to everyone for the holidays, and Happy New Year! (Sending these now since I won’t be blogging again until January –and we are anticipating making some changes here at Risky Regencies, so who knows?? Thank you for visiting us here and for reading.

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Jane Austen Movie Night

This weekend I hosted the “Dining for Dollars” Jane Austen Movie Night I’ve been talking about. About twenty people attended and I think all had a lovely time. My goal with the menu was to serve foods based on period recipes that would have a reasonable appeal to modern tastes, but also to make sure to honor the guests’ dietary needs and preferences, including some dishes that were vegetarian, some gluten free, and some nut free. Luckily, no one was vegan, because it’s hard to find recipes that don’t include some butter and/or eggs! I used a lot of recipes from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, also some I found online.

The dinner menu:
– Salamongondy (pictured: a salad of cold meats, vegetables, and fruit, based on a Hannah Glass recipe)
– White Fricasey (a chicken and mushroom stew, also a Hannah Glasse recipe)
– Roast Potatoes (adapted from Hannah Glasse, using gluten free crumbs)
– Vegetable Pie (adapted from the cookbook of Martha Lloyd)
– Swiss Soup Meagre (also from Martha Lloyd, also adapted to be gluten free)
– Bread, both regular and gluten free (I cheated and bought from a store that has a good bakery)

I served lemonade, burgundy, claret (Bordeaux), and hock (white German wine).

There was a lot to do to prepare, so several friends came early and took the role that would be taken by under-cooks, kitchen maids, and scullery maids, for which I am very grateful!

While the guests were arriving and getting their food, I played Jane’s Hand, a CD of music from Jane Austen’s songbooks. Here is one of my favorites, “I Have a Silent Sorrow Here”, written by none other than Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and performed by Julianne Baird.

I offered guests a choice of films to watch, and they chose Persuasion, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, because most had not already seen it. They enjoyed the story and the romantic resolution. Here’s the famous “letter scene”.

Some of my guests were surprised that Persuasion is not as popular as Pride & Prejudice and said they were eager to read the book now.

The dessert menu:
– Hedgehogs (adapted from Hannah Glasse–a huge hit but without the calf’s foot jelly!)
– Rout Drop Cakes (little cookies flavored with rose water, sherry, brandy, and orange juice, dotted with currents, a Maria Rundell recipe)
– Chocolate Ice Cream (store bought, gluten free)

It was a lot of work, but so fun I may do it again sometime.

Have you ever done anything like this, or would you like to? Which movies are your favorites? Any foods or drinks you’ve tried to recreate, or want to?


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Black Tudors?

I saw a new book about black history on Twitter and had to pounce: Black Tudors, The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann. While this is earlier than what I write, I grew up as a historical re-enactor and a lot of my time and study has been devoted to fifteenth and sixteenth century history. I’m only halfway done with the book, but it’s proven well worth my time and money.

I don’t want to give a synopsis of the entire book, as that’s unfair to the author, so I’m going to concentrate on the first black Tudor featured in the book, John Blanke, the Trumpeter. John Blanke shown twice in the Westiminster Tournament Roll and is the only idenifiable portrait of an African in Tudor England.

Blanke is a fasinating figure. Musicians were known to move from court to court rather freely, and they were often used as messengers betweeen courts. It is likely that Blanke arrived in England in the retinue of Katherine of Aragon in 1501 (blacks, both free and enslaved, being more common in Spain, Portugal, and the Italian states). By 1507 he is listed as one of Henry VII’s trumpeters and is being paid the same wage as the others. He must have been a favorite, because when a more senior musician died, Blanke petioined the new king, Henry VIII to be raised in position and have his pay increased. Not only wa this request granted, but when Blanke married in 1512 the king bestowed upon him violet cloth for his wedding clothes (as a musician, Blanke was already entitled to ignore the sumptary laws and was known to dress in crimson).

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

One interesting tidbit I learned was the because trumpeters were used as messengers, they were supposed to have dipolmatic immunity, allowing them free passage through foreign and even enemy territory. This, coupled with their frequently moving from service of one king or noble to another, also gave rise to them being thought of as spies. Wouldn’t a Dunnett-like series about a spy/trumpeter moving through the courts of sixteenth century Eurpoe be amazing? Somebody who’s better at mystery plots than I am needs to write this for me!

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Reading, Research | 1 Comment